Mecca v. Buffalo Niagara Convention Ctr. Mgt. Corp. (App Div., 4th Dep’t)

Paige Mecca (hereafter “plaintiff”) commenced this action to recover damages suffered when an employee of Buffalo Niagara Convention Center Management Corporation (hereafter “defendant”) dropped a tray of dishes on her. At trial, the jury found defendant liable and awarded damages to plaintiff for past and future pain and suffering, future lost wages and business profits and future medical expenses. Pursuant to CPLR 4404, Plaintiff moved to set aside the damages awarded and sought a new trial citing that the damages awarded under those categories were against the weight of the evidence and deviated materially from what would be reasonable compensation. Supreme Court granted plaintiff’s motion and the defendant appealed.

In cases where there is evidence which could support a conclusion different from that of a jury, its verdict will still be accorded great deference and respect so long as there is credible evidence to support its interpretation. In this case, the defense created a case, through cross-examination and the presentation of evidence that the injured plaintiff had exaggerated her injuries and that the injuries she complained of may have been preexisting. The plaintiffs were unable to proffer any objective evidence (i.e. MRI reports, CT scans, and EEGs), to prove the nature of the injuries that plaintiff sustained as a result of the accident. Consequently, the jury’s determination to award lesser amounts of damages than plaintiffs sought for plaintiff’s injuries with respect to the categories of past and future pain and suffering was fairly based upon the interpretation of the evidence.

With respect to the awards of damages for future lost wages and business profits, a jury may reject an expert’s opinion regarding valuation in the calculation of damages even when, as is the case here, the expert’s opinion was uncontradicted at trial. Defendant submitted evidence that established that plaintiff’s business would not suffer the severe losses claimed by plaintiffs, and that plaintiff’s ability to work was not as severely impacted as she claimed. Consequently, the jury’s award in this regard did not deviate materially from what would be reasonable compensation.

In addition, defendant submitted evidence that called into question whether plaintiff would need the future medical treatment for which she sought damages. Accordingly, the court abused its discretion in setting aside the verdicts with respect to all of the aforementioned damages awards.